JEFFERSON GILBERT JAMES
Jefferson Gilbert James, one of the pioneers of Fresno County, was long known as one of the greatest of the old-time cattle kings, and was one of the most prominent men of his time and locality. Born in Pike County, Missouri, December 29, 1829, he was a son of Dr. John R. James, who migrated from Virginia to the then newly acquired lands of Missouri. Growing up in his native county, "Jeff" James, as he was long familiarly known, was educated in the old log schoolhouse of the pioneer period, and each morning before he started off for the cabin in which the school was held he did what would now be considered a day's work about the farm, and other chores awaited him upon his return at night.
As he developed into a useful manhood he became interested in public affairs, and was inspired, as were so many, with an enthusiasm relative to the new gold fields of the West, and in 1849 he, a brother, T. B. James, a brother-in-law, J. L. Alford, and a friend, George Ogle, determined to seek their fortunes in California. They joined a caravan commanded by Capt. Jeff Allman, and carried with them what was then regarded as a proper equipment for such a journey. The little party took the famous South Pass route, which led over the Green and Raft rivers. Up to the time they reached the Raft River the James boys and their two associates had occupied one of the prairie "schooners," but then, deciding that this method of locomotion was too slow to suit their venturesome young spirits, they removed the wheels from their wagon, sawed out the spokes, and from them fashioned pack saddles, and succeeded in packing their outfit on eight untrained mules. It required patience and determination to drive these mules, but the young men succeeded in passing with their pack train fourteen other emigrant wagons belonging to their original party, and never met their fellow travelers again.
Mr. James had stopped at Virginia City and worked for a time for his cousin, J. M. Douglas, earning sufficient to continue his journey, so that instead of reaching there in 1849 it was August, 1850, the James outfit reached Hangtown, now Placerville, and turned their pack animals to graze on the Hicks Ranch, which ran along the Consumers River. [Cosumnes River?] Going to Greenwood Valley on the Middle Fork of the American River, the James boys cleaned up $35,000 each in rocker mining and prospecting, and then returned to Hangtown, in April, 1852. From there they returned to Missouri by the Nicaragua route to New York City, whence they completed their journey to their old home by trail.
Even in those early days the lure of the Golden State drew men back, and in 1853 Jefferson G. James returned to California alone, his brother electing to remain in Missouri. A foresighted man, he drove a herd of ninety-one cows, which he fattened and sold after reaching California at a handsome profit. For some time thereafter he was engaged in mining at Placerville.
Mr. James was a man who could see opportunities when another would detect nothing out of the ordinary. In June, 1857, he set out on horseback for Los Angeles to investigate the possibilities of that region for cattle raising, and there laid the foundation of his future fortune by purchasing 960 head of cattle, which he drove in the fall of that year to the famous "25" Ranch near Kingston, then known as Whitmore's Valley. In 1858 he engaged in several picturesque rodeos, in which he was assisted by numerous "vaquaros." With the cattle thus obtained he went to the head of Fresno Slough, but after five years there he bought his ranch near the San Joaquin River on Fresno and Fish sloughs.
As a man of large means and wonderful prospects Mr. James once more returned to Missouri, in 1860, and was married to Miss Jennie L. Rector. They had one child, Maud Strother James, who was born in 1865. One year later he had Mrs. James and their infant come to California. The daughter was subsequently married to Walker C. Graves, a prominent attorney of San Francisco. After the death of his first wife, Mr. James married her sister, Elizabeth Merritt.
As a side line, in 1877, Mr. James organized a wholesale meat company at San Francisco, and continued in this business until his death. He slaughtered sheep and cattle in such large numbers as to place him fourth among the meat packers of California. As his wealth increased and his interests multiplied Mr. James became active in politics, and in 1882 was elected a member of the board of supervisors of San Francisco County; in 1886 he was made a member of the San Francisco school board, and he was reelected to the latter office several years later. Still later he was his party's candidate for mayor of San Francisco, but was defeated by Adolph Sutro. All of his political activities were carried on through the medium of the democratic party, of which he was an ardent adherent.
Mr. James became otherwise prominent through his connection with the Fresno Loan & Savings Bank, which he had been instrumental in organizing in 1886, and which was capitalized at $300,000. In 1888 he was elected president of this bank. During the disastrous panic of 1893 this bank was forced to close its doors, but through the efforts of Mr. James and his associates all of its liabilities were satisfactorily liquidated. The present Land Company Building, now occupied by the Bank of Central California, was erected by the Fresno Loan & Savings Bank. Mr. James was very high in Masonry and also belonged to the Knights of Pythias and the Woodmen of the World. The last years of his life Mr. James spent at San Francisco, and he died in his home, 2316 Folsom Street, as a result of paralysis.
The son-in-law of Mr. James, Walker Coleman Graves, was one of the foremost attorneys of San Francisco, specializing in civil and corporation law, but since 1910 has been the presiding officer of the J. G. James Company, the foremost cattle business in California. Mr. Graves was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, June 10, 1849, a son of Coleman and Virginia Graves, both of whom were born in Virginia. After attending the public schools of his native county he took special courses in languages and law at the University of Kentucky, and was graduated therefrom in 1878, was admitted to the bar, and practiced in all of the courts. In 1888 he was appointed assistant district attorney, and held that office for one-half year when he was elected district attorney. George H. Cabinose was his assistant. In 1890 he was the democratic candidate for attorney-general, but that year, however, was one of republican victories in California, and he was defeated, although running ahead of his party.
In 1882 Mr. Graves and Miss Maud James were married, and they became the parents of three children: Jefferson James, now a colonel in the United States Army; Walker C., a well-known actor; and Rector Chiles, deceased. Mr. Graves died November 10, 1919. In June, 1923, Mrs. Graves married William H. Loller, a real estate broker.
Transcribed by Marilyn R. Pankey 8-5-04
Source: "The San Francisco Bay Region" by Bailey Millard Vol. 3 page 401-404. Published by The American Historical Society, Inc. 1924.
© 2004 Marilyn R. Pankey